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Bainbridge change-of-government bill passes Senate; now up to Gov. Gregoire

The State House and Senate have now both approved House Bill 1066, which will pave the way for a May referendum on Bainbridge Island's form of government.

The bill passed the Senate today in a 41-6 vote. It will now go to the governor's desk for signature.

Action on the bill could occur as early as the end of this week. A spokesperson at the governor's office said the bill should arrive on the governor's desk by Friday. The governor will then have five days to make a decision on the legislation.

"This is one of the fastest moving bills I have seen in 10 years," said Sen. Phil Rockefeller of Bainbridge.

Rockefeller co-sponsored a companion bill to HB 1066 in the Senate. After 1066 passed in the House last month, Rockefeller replaced his bill with the approved House version. (See related story and video).

The bill's success was spurred by the inclusion of an emergency clause, which fast-tracked it through the Legislature. Both bills were approved without modification, so no reconciling will be needed.

However, it will be up to Gov. Gregoire to decide if the bill's emergency measure, which allows for it to immediately become law upon the governor's signing, will be kept intact.

Recently, the governor has been reticent to sign on bills that include emergency clauses.

"The governor has a lot of things on her plate now, she has pressing issues to deal with, but this will be presented to her soon," Rockefeller said. "I will be contacting her to encourage her to take it up when she can to get it signed into law."

Republican Sen. Pam Roach spoke against the bill, and led the six-person partisan opposition to HB 1066 on the Senate floor.

She raised concerns that special election's usually have lower voter turnouts, and that a special election on a form of government would significantly reduce the amount of citizens participating in the decision. She also stated that it was the Legislature's intended goal to place form-of-government referendums on a general election ballot, even if they coincided with a mayoral election.

Rockefeller said because Kitsap County uses all-mail balloting, turnout would not be significantly affected if Bainbridge voted this May.

The bill is one of the first to be approved by both House and Senate in the 2009 legislative session.

The bill would amend state law regarding special elections. Those rules currently state that a change-of-government vote can only be held during November general elections of an odd-numbered year, which would coincide with Bainbridge's mayoral elections in November 2009.

The change of government initiative was taken up by the Bainbridge City Council after a citizen's petition called for a referendum of the city's form of government. The petition was certified by the Kitsap County Auditor in October 2008. The council then moved to hold a special election on the issue on May 19, 2009.

Those who signed the petition would like islanders to vote on their form of government, choosing between the current mayor/council system or the council/manager system.

In the latter form of government, a professional administrator hired by the council would replace the mayor. Both systems approved forms of government under Washington State law.

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